Everybody’s doing it

She doesn't like the next new food (oatmeal in this case) as much as you might guess from this picture.

Last night I was reading a trashy novel on my iPod while Tom watched a TV show on his laptop. In my book, the heroine’s brother had been incarcerated for hacking into Twitter and bringing it down for 48 hours. Just then a character on Tom’s show talked her way into a trendy restaurant by telling the maitre’d how influential her foodie blog was. I realized a couple of things:

a) we might need to look into some loftier entertainment options

and

b) blogging (and Twitter and zumba and {insert latest trend}) was a lot funner when no one knew what a blog was.

Now I’ve got my grandma(!) defending Mormon Mommy Bloggers (I’m getting to that post; grandma wrote her grand defense on a computer with a 3 1/2 floppy drive and no internet access) and I can’t even read a fun romance without being reminded that I haven’t been on the Twitter much lately.

It’s not that I’m a pop culture snob (obviously), or that I have any trend-setter/early-adopter pretensions (I only started blogging after Tom nagged me for a year, same with Twitter), it’s more something like Groucho Marx’s thing about not wanting to be friends with anyone who would be friends with him. Or something.

Anyone have a fun new hobby?

Because Molly wanted to practice her ventriloquism

Q: “Why should I be Utah’s Next Top Sassy?”

A: “World Peace.”

Also too, I like the concept of supporting local businesses; it’s probably a good idea to promote and patronize them so that when the apocalypse is nigh, you’ll have a reliable source for fuel and Mountain Dew. (Maverik gas station is local to the Western U.S., so . . . every fountain drink is like a vote for freedom, right?)

I’d love to review a clothing consignment store (like Kid-to-Kid or My Sister’s Closet, which turns out to be local to Mesa, Arizona, but they just opened in Spanish Fork, so maybe that counts?). What about CSAs and Farmer’s Markets? And Winder Farms? Oh, oh, and we should review some books and then have a reading with great Utah authors like Shannon Hale and Brandon Mull. And someone should ask my opinion about Thai Drift in Lindon. (Spoiler: It’s awesome. Get the massaman curry.)

(There’s also a big fat selfish reason: I would love to see these guys (Steph and Emily and Vanessa and Kristina and Jenny and Camille and Jennifer) more often.)

Here’s my audition video, starring Molly:

There’s a small maternal-infant Freudian slip in there when she says she doesn’t need me around “every single day.” I think she meant “every single hour” or “every single minute.”

If you would like to help me in my quest for local-blogger-reviewerness, please visit the Sassy Scoops on Facebook and “like” my video. You’ll need to “like” Sassy Scoops and click on “SassyScoopsUtah + Others” to see it. Thanks!

This would be a good place for something profound

Tomorrow we begin our forty-day electricity fast. I feel like there were several things I meant to do and write and plan for before this started, but today was busy with family and barbecuing and recovering from the CBC and shrugging when my mom couldn’t stop remarking on how large my 28-week belly looks.

I have printed off recipes and information for swimming lessons; I’ll probably go on Tom’s freelance laptop once a week for ten minutes to check our finances, since I don’t feel comfortable leaving them completely unwatched. I bought some candles and a drying rack and . . . oops, today we bought an electric pump to blow up the kiddie swimming pool because just looking at the handpump exhausted me. Guess I’ll be standing in the return line tomorrow. Funny how I can talk this up to the kids every day for a week and totally space that an electric air pump would take — duh — electricity.

I’m excited for this, though today I realized the only music I’ll hear between now and July 10th is whatever I catch on the radio in the car, and the hymns at church. It’s probably better that I don’t really know what to expect: perhaps it’ll be totally sublime with daily epiphanies; perhaps it’ll be intolerable. I plan to write something every day, but the question I want to answer  is one that I’ve wanted to adopt as a focal point for months now, but somehow have never found the time. (And it doesn’t have to do with living a “green” lifestyle.)

It comes from Elder Eyring: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?”

If you need me, please email Tom at tomjohnson1492 @ gmail dot com.

Every little thing you do is grating

There are so many things I want to write about (Susan’s experience learning to read and tie her shoe left-handed, my gardening/composting misadventures, Sally’s complete apparent brainwashing into the public school system at the tender age of nine, my disinclination to have Spot’s speech assessed though maybe it should be, and a hundred other little things like what (not) to read while you’re expecting) but I’m suffering from a writer’s block in which every thing around me (though surprisingly not including my children or husband) is BUGGING THE SNOT OUT OF ME.

I read posts that sound pretentious, shallow, or downright irrational. I wish I could muster the energy to leave flaming comments (I should pretend that I have matured enough to keep my critical thoughts to myself, or even better, become a kind, empathetic person, but the truth is I’m just tired of it all). The weather is mercurial and frustrating (though even a teasing, snowy May first is better than the silent resignation of February). Ten of the first forty swimming lessons of the season, including all the preschool level 1, were full within an hour of online registration being open, and I just want everyone else with kids to take a break for awhile and let me get ahead.

I know it’s me. I know my posts are every bit as self-indulgent and I will be forever grateful to Simon Cowell for that phrase. I know that soon enough I’ll be cursing the heat in my pregnancy-swelled incarnation. I know Spot will probably do fine in the preschool level 2 class, seeing as she’s had what seems like seven years of parent-child class.

I know church will someday again not make me want to slit my own throat in futile protest of lazy cliches, testimonies-that-are-not-testimonies, comments about how true ladies are strong but ever-quiet and modestly reserved, eulogies of people or callings or both, empty iterations of how the church must be true and Christ must be at the helm because our recent stake splitting was quick and seamless instead of the bloody, brutal coup that divine oversight averted by just this much.

I know this is me: I read a post where someone lamented having low self-esteem/being fat ever since adolescence even though she wore the smallest skirt on her cheerleading squad. I guess she didn’t get the memo that you’re not allowed to feel bad about yourself unless you weigh almost as much as me (hey, I’m pregnant, I’ll give you a few grace pounds under my current weight, but normally you better weigh at least 20 pounds more before whining). Since I am not a standard (well, I am pretty close to the U.S. average size, but we’ll let that go; i.e. I was right, but that’s not the point), this is a subjective, self-centered, unsympathetic line of indignation in the sand.

I read a different (funny, faith-affirming) sort of post last Monday. It was Conversion Diary’s When Church Isn’t Fun (really, go read it; I’d risk the cliche of saying she said it so much better than I could, it was that good), though her church-wasn’t-fun was for the less-damning (understandable) reason of hooligan children (which I remember well, but my kids are pretty old for that now). I’ve mentioned before my Catholic envy; really it is an envy for the mysteries, for the holiness some devout, fervent, trying Catholics seem to center their lives on.

Mormonism has mysteries, of course, but often we are a practical people, eschewing unanswerable questions for concrete principles of daily living. Which I like. I need concrete principles and valuable, reasonable theories of how best to live the mundane parts. And we say that taking the Sacrament (our version of Communion) is the most important part of our Sunday meetings, but it is purely symbolic; we don’t have the transubstantiation literalness thing going, nor the pomp and circumstance, so I don’t know if that’s why the Sacrament sometimes seems a hurried ordinance to be gotten through before the meat of the meeting rather than a ritual completion at the end.

But this, too, is me. I could arrive early to church (I think; maybe I should walk alone once a month and sit for awhile by myself before 9) and meditate my heart out on the mysteries of God. I could pinch my kids into squawking so they once again consume my energies that are less-well-spent in finding fault. Which is funny because a) I lamented not being able to concentrate on the speaker for years, and b) I’ll have a new squawker soon enough; probably I should enjoy this peace I longed for.

Dalene has one of those small, simple things in her post today (I do read great Mormon bloggers, too), that reminds me that when we are listening, when we are able to hear, God speaks. He speaks through others, and sometimes He speaks in a gesture, a glance, a communion of spirits knowing and apprehending the same thing at once.

Why didn’t I have an experience like that today? I know it was me. I wasn’t listening. I hope God wasn’t trying to tell me something important today. As if God takes Sunday off with no message for those who would hear. Only I wouldn’t.

Why I’ll never succeed in business

Today I was offered share in a company while I worked the StartupPrincess swag table at the Seth Godin lunch for Haiti. (Think of that as background information, not name-dropping). A man approached me, saying he felt impressed to tell me about his great idea for a Twitter/Facebook-type networking site that would fill a niche for online moms.

I said that sounded good, in fact there are already several (probably hundreds of) great sites out there (including #gno and TwitterMoms.com on Twitter and pages on Facebook, and Today’s Mama and the Motherhood, and various ning social sites, not to mention local message boards and forums and pretty soon it was clear that he didn’t have a clear vision for his company, and he hadn’t done any market research (how sad is it that I think I used that term correctly in a conversation) to see what’s already out there and what he could offer different and special.

What he does have, basically, is the domain SuperMom.com, and the conviction that this could be big, really big. And you know what? It could be, with the right person (a woman who happens to be a mom probably), the right vision, the right strategy, a higher purpose (donating 10% to charity or something), the right relationships with social media gurus, and time and luck.

He wanted me to be that person. I said I’d work on it if he’d pay me. He offered me a share in the company (which is basically, share in the domain SuperMom.com), which might be an opportunity, I suppose, if I could make it my passion.

But it’s not, and I can’t.

I told him about Kalli’s quilting bee I went to last month and Sue’s new blogger charity posse and how the “networks” I participate in are all “organic.” I’m on Twitter, yeah, but only because I enjoy it and there are fun people on there who have interesting ideas or happenings to share. (Yes, a lot of it is beyond banal, but how about this tweet from @QueenScarlett yesterday: 5YO:I like going to Church to have a play date with Jesus. Me:What? 5YO:Church is His house. It’s a reverent play date & Jesus is not whiny.)*

Then I said, to be honest, (prepare yourself): The name “SuperMom” is kind of off-putting to me. I have no interest in being a SuperMom, or an AlphaMom or a Type-A Mom. I even lost interest in being a What About Mom? Mom, though sometimes I think of going back to that.

He still insisted that that person with the vision could be me. I demurred, told him about the social media club of slc and Utah Valley, where he could go and meet people who might be more visionary.

He handed me his business card, told me to think about it, and let him know if I was interested in being a part of the next big thing.

I’m interested, all right, in what people do and think they can do online.

But I lost his card somewhere on the ride home.

Here’s what I learned at the Seth Godin thing, for Lauren (@supermomcentral), because I told her I was writing a post about said event, and this post really isn’t much about that, except to say that I know it’s important to have passion, if you want to succeed in business (life). Seth Godin says if you can write down what your job is then “they” can find someone to do it cheaper. And that public school is a scam perpetuated by factory-minded people who want to produce a compliant, obedient, not-thinking-for-themselves workforce.

And that fear is what keeps us from doing great things, from creating great art (the kind that is being awesome at whatever you do because you’re doing it your way). And then he said that the emotionally hard work of being an artist (again, not a painter but a DO-er, a Create-or, etc) is doing it even when you don’t feel like doing it, which I need to think about a lot because I haven’t felt like writing or doing anything lately, and I like to blame my evening pregnancy sickness for that, but really it’s probably also fear — fear of failure, and also fear of success. (Which is nonsense, because really, who fears success?)

The other big take-away I got will be the subject of my post “Lessons for being a Mom from Seth Godin” if I ever get around to writing it, but since I might not, the upshot was I started thinking that probably I can be an artist as a mother, I can do it the way only I can, I can do it my way, a way that can’t be written down in interchangeable parts. I can stop demanding blind obedience (not that I am successful at that) and instead encourage making good choices and trying new things, and I can see that the messier my house is, the better, because it means those kids are DOing something.

A lot of what Seth said sounded like Ayn Rand to me, and I wonder if that means I didn’t get it at all or if he is a not-so-secret Galtist. Because he talked a lot about giving and generosity, but it sounded like non-coerced giving, not namby-pamby “giving back.”

And finally, Seth actually asked me a question, but I didn’t know the answer. I did, however, know the answer to the number one question asked at events like this: “Where is the bathroom?”

* If you’re on the fence about Twitter, (and Seth Godin today said it was terrible, that it was what kept people from creating their art (not arty art but whatever it is that you do that no one tells you to do), but you could say that about any distraction that has the potential, if misused, to become a time-suck), consider this:

Fun Happenings that were a direct result of Twitter:

That time I spoke at BYU about Twitter because Kelly King Anderson asked for a substitute on Twitter.

That time I met @sahans on Twitter, who happens to live just 30 minutes away and then she fed my family one night and another night we got to go to the Timpanogos Storytelling Winter Concert for free because she knows how to Direct Message me on Twitter.

All of the times I have discussed meeting at Barry’s in Spanish Fork for Malibu Chicken and the best French fries in the world, and yet the one time I drove down there I was too grungy to ask anyone to meet me on Twitter.

That time I heard about the #gno at Seo.com and I took Chrysanthemum and we ate pizza and laughed with @jet_set and @petitelefant.

That time I attended the Wasatch Woman of the Year luncheon and got all inspired because Pam Baumeister asked for volunteers on Twitter.

That time I attended the Start-up Princess Seth Godin lunch because KKA asked for volunteers on Twitter.

I can’t list all of the Utah people I follow on Twitter because I am lazy, but here are the ones who were at lunch today. Just go to Twitter.com and add these fine folk: @jillkaufusi, @sahans, @inevergrewup, @sweetlifeinth, @JoanieAtwater,@emihill, @makeitworkmom, @wasatchwoman, @startupprincess, @bigbags, @thomallen, @newspapergrl, @cuteculturechic, @JylMomIF (I didn’t see her but I’m believin’ she was there), and if I forgot anyone it is because I am a terrible person and you should forgive me (if you even see this because probably if you read me, and if I know that you read me, I would probably have remembered seeing you there today, and so really it’s your fault. Not that all of these people read me religiously, but they should.)

You should also follow @LauraMoncur, because she is the first person in social media that I met in Utah, she’s really nice, and she makes a living online. I know! Crazy, huh?

Follow-up to Motherlode Story; Thoughts on the Responsibilities of Writers and Readers

There’s a “rest of the story” on Motherlode today, and the picture it paints, in the words of the father and wife involved in the “dirty little secret” post from earlier this week, is heartbreaking, and very sympathy-inducing. Basically, the father was served with papers a few months into his marriage, telling him he was the father of a two-year old. The financial strain of paying back child support, the financial and emotional hardship of going to court 40 times hoping to gain visitation, etc, and the regular stresses of starting a family and career have put them in the current situation.

This post tells such a radically different story than the first essay did. I feel horrified for everyone involved. I understand why they have given up for now on making the boy a part of their family, because it sounds impossibly complicated (maybe, simply, “impossible”). I applaud them for continuing to honor the father’s financial obligation.

But this brings up a slew of interesting writer-audience issues. I can’t apologize for reacting the way I did to the first essay, because my feelings were based not on conjecture or gossip or the writing of a critical reporter, but on the facts and feelings that one of the principal characters shared. In telling a story, the onus is on the writer to present relevant facts, to tell the story, and if things are misunderstood (especially by such large numbers of people), the fault is the writer’s, not the audience’s. If the claims made in the second post are true, then the mother/writer is either a very unreliable narrator, a poor writer, or an irresponsible attention-seeker.

The mother/writer in the first piece sounded shallow, image-conscious, and materialistic. Perhaps (hopefully) she’s not. But that’s how she herself presented herself.

It’s like if Shakespeare came along and said, “Wait! You think Romeo was foolish and short-sighted and impulsive to kill himself when he found Juliet lying on the tomb? He wasn’t! He gathered the top five doctors in Verona and each one pronounced her dead! He waited three days as her body decomposed and THEN he drove the dagger into his heart! DUH! You don’t know anything! You’re so quick to come to conclusions about somebody. … Oh? What? You say I FORGOT to put that in Act 5? Well, shucks, that story is so familiar to me, I thought EVERYBODY knew about the multiple autopsies and the mirror-breath test. You readers are so dumb and quick to judge.”

Except it’s even worse, because to really be a parallel case, it would have to be Romeo who wrote the play and then got hurt, defensive, and morally superior when people came to the inevitable conclusion that he was a big boob.

Another issue is Lisa Belkin’s responsibility in all this. As the writer of the Motherlode blog, she frequently has guest posters, and they often explicitly or implicitly ask for advice. Several times guest posters have been criticized for decisions they have made. Perhaps this is an ugly part of blogging, but it is also, in fact, an intrinsic part of blogging: reader response is the WHOLE POINT OF BLOGGING.

If you write a post on a blog with comments, you ask for and expect responses. If those responses do not include the fawning congratulation or commiseratory sympathy you thought your story deserved, you can’t then say, “How rude! I didn’t ask you to intrude on my private life! How dare you presume to comment!” Because when you posted to a public blog which asks people to “join the discussion,” you ASKED FOR COMMENTS.

I think Lisa Belkin’s editorial policy bears some of the burden here. Since it was not her story (so she presumably at least wasn’t “forgetting” important details), what was the motive for publishing such a damaging, one-sided initial account? Controversy? Link-baiting? In not urging her guest poster to dig deeper for and include these mitigating circumstances, I think she has betrayed the trust of a writer she should have mentored, in favor of the publicity-loving instincts of sensationalistic journalism.

And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

(Except to say that I hope things work out for the family and the boy. What a difficult situation with no easy answers.)

Actual Unretouched PR

See if you can spot all the problems in this pitch:

Hello Mari,

I wanted to tell you about a new month-long Bubbles and Bubbly Contest powered by Wisk High-Efficiency detergent, which your readers will surely enjoy. To enter to win, just answer a true or false question that tests your Bubble IQ and no matter if you get it right or wrong you are eligible for a grand prize drawing of a fabulous red HE washer & dryer.  And because we know that all HE machines require HE detergent, we’re also giving away one-year supplies of Wisk HE detergent to 5 lucky runners up. Also, each day 5 people will win a free bottle of Wisk HE.  You can enter up to once a day for a month for the chance to win, so do come back each day for a new question and another chance to win!

Please let me know if you have any questions and if you can help spread the word to your readers.

Best,

Kathleen

@LaundryHE

Done? Okay. Here’s what I came up with:

1. My name is not “Mari.” I’m happy to be called Shannon or Jane; even “MommyBlogger” would be preferable to a name that is not my name. Sally has been reading too much Calvin & Hobbes lately so she calls me “the Mom-Lady,” but she’s eight, you know?

2. “which your readers will surely enjoy.” Yeah, my dad is really interested in Wisk High-Efficiency detergent.

3. “Bubble IQ.” Really?

4. The statement I got upon visiting the site was “True or False: If you swallow bubble gum it will stay in your stomach for 7 years.” I asked Sally this question in case I was dismissing it too quickly. She gave me the look and said, “that’s impossible.” If your quiz doesn’t at least require my eight-year old to think for a minute, why would I enjoy it?

5. The contest entry requires that you submit both your street address and phone number. Uh, I don’t think so. And, maybe you could have mentioned that in this email. I can’t in good conscience encourage people to leave that kind of information on a site that has no visible encryption or privacy policy.

6. The results are the same whether I get the answer right or wrong? Why use words like “question” and “tests” and “IQ” if this is really one of those pinko feel-good non-contests where everyone is a winner (as long as they’re chosen randomly)? Kids gotta learn that not everyone can be the next American Idol.

7. Whatever you do, don’t say what brand the washer and dryer are (as long as it’s not Maytag — like the kind Dooce, oops, it is a Maytag.) But they’re red! (same kind as my laptop) and fabulous!

8. You just said that High-Efficiency detergent is only for those fancy HE machines, right? If you do a simple site search of my blog with the word “laundry,” the first result is this post, which has a picture of my old, ugly (yet reliable) machines. I know, your time is too valuable to pretend to do any research, even the most obvious and easy two-second search. You’re too important to waste time personalizing things for me. I get it. (thanks for the ego hit.)

9. Even if I did have nothing better to do than enter a quiz that isn’t a quiz every day for a month, you think I’d want to broadcast that fact?

I noticed this email (among all the other bad pitches I’ve gotten recently) because a guy I met at a blogging for business conference emailed me the other day asking for consultation about a pitch he’s working on. (SMART GUY.)

Seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to write a successful pitch, if you truly love a product and if you’ve ever written a letter to your mom. But of course PR people can’t expect to love every product they work with, and they probably don’t have mothers, either. Maybe if they could get into some sort of headspace where they believed in X product so much they simply HAD to write home to mother about it, the email boxes of mommybloggers across the land would be a much happier place.

Now I feel bad. I sent a link to this to Kathleen, and she responded so graciously. I’m a jerk. (But everything I said is still true. — I guess this is what they meant by cognitive dissonance.)

Also, Dick tells me they’re legally required to enter you in the contest whether you’re medically braindead or not. So, my bad.